ALFA receives grant for whale detection and avoidance

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) is honored to announce a grant award from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program (BREP) to develop a user-friendly tool that assists fishermen with detecting sperm whales to avoid depredation on longline gear. The tool is a towed hydrophone array that can locate whales up to eight miles away and share this information between a network of fishermen. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration of fishermen, NOAA fishery managers, university-based biologists, and hydrophone equipment developers. The project builds on prior work conducted by the Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Network (SEASWAP) during a 2016 pilot study, applying data and experience gained during that pilot work to automate a real time whale depredation avoidance network in the eastern Gulf of Alaska.

“ALFA’s goal is to provide fishermen with an effective means of detecting sperm whales before setting gear, to facilitate sharing this information with a network of fishermen, and assist the fleet with avoiding sperm whale depredation,” stated Dan Falvey, ALFA research director. “With support from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program, we hope to turn research oriented towed array hydrophone systems into a plug and play for the longline fleet.”

The three-stage project will: 1) use 2016 filed data to improve automated detection/localization functions, improve the user interface, incorporate automated real time sharing of whale detection data to allow avoidance, and upgrade existing SEASWAP hydrophone hardware; 2) field test the upgraded software/hardware on commercial fishing vessels and 3) incorporate the upgraded systems into ALFA’s whale-avoidance network.

“Sperm whale depredation on longline gear poses an economic challenge to fishermen and complicates stock assessment for fisheries managers,” noted ALFA executive director Linda Behnken. “Fishermen need tools to avoid whale depredation and this support from NOAA’s BREP will allow to create fishermen—and whale—friendly tools.”